OK. Now it’s our pleasure to go back into the time machine and speak with somebody who is really really dead. Today we’re pleased to speak with Jonathan Swift, who inspired the likes of several of our other interviews – Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. Mr. Swift was born in 1667 and died in 1745. He was Irish.
To what do you attribute your long-lasting success?
Jonathan Swift: Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold, which the owner knows not of. Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent. (Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726)
So let’s get right to it. You had some interesting takes on politics and used satire as a way to express them? Why even in political landslides one side always gets at least 40%?
There are certain common privileges of a writer, the benefit whereof, I hope, there will be no reason to doubt; particularly, that where I am not understood, it shall be concluded, that something very useful and profound is couched underneath; and again, that whatever word or sentence is printed in a different character, shall be judged to contain something extraordinary either or wit of sublime." (A Tale of a Tub, Preface. 1704)
But nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want. A Preface to the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction to the Third Volume of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England (8 December, 1713)
Why the loser of the next election should take hope?
There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy. (A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind. 1707)
Will there ever be peace in our times?
Poor Nations are hungry, and rich Nations are proud, and Pride and Hunger will ever be at Variance. (Gulliver’s Travels, Voyage to Houyhnhnms; 1726)
Any advice for our Supreme Court Justices?
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through. (A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind. 1707)
There was all the world and his wife. (Polite Conversation - Dialogue 2; 1738?)
…one enemy can do more hurt, than ten friends can do good. (Journal to Stella. 30 June, 1711)
Why you refuse to be on any talk shows?
Lord, I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing! (Polite Conversation - Dialogue 2)
And speaking of talk shows - Sunday Morning talk shows?
And he gave it for his opinion, that whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
(Gulliver’s Travels, 1726, Voyage to Brobdingnag)
Monday Morning talk shows?
For conversation well endued;
She calls it witty to be rude;
And, placing raillery in railing,
Will tell aloud your greatest failing. (The Furniture of a Woman's Mind. 1727)
And surely one of the best rules in conversation is, never to say a thing which any of the company can reasonably wish had been left unsaid… (Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation. 1709)
Advice for those dining at the White House and White Castle?
Conversation is but carving!
Give no more to every guest
Than he's able to digest.
Give him always of the prime,
And but little at a time.
Carve to all but just enough,
Let them neither starve nor stuff,
And that you may have your due,
Let your neighbor carve for you. (Conversation)
What should one say to his critics?
This evil fortune, which generally attends extraordinary men in the management of great affairs, has been imputed to divers causes, that need not be here set down, when so obvious a one occurs, if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.(Essay on the Fates of Clergymen. 1728)
Let’s get your thoughts on the thoughts of some notable people.
Jane Austen and Mark Twain had different views on manners. Who was right?
Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred in the company. (A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding. 1754, published posthumously)
William Penn wrote “Where wisdom has wit to express it – now there’s the best orator?” Was he right?
Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly. (Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726)
Molly Ivins once said her fashion sense was that she wears clothes so she doesn’t have to go naked? Was she right?
She wears her clothes, as if they were thrown on her with a pitchfork. (Polite Conversation - Dialogue 1)
David Brenner once remarked that the bravest man alive was the first person to milk a cow?
He was a bold man that first ate an oyster. (Polite Conversation - Dialogue 2)
Pride, ill nature, and want of sense, are the three great sources of ill manners. (A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding
A women’s prerogative?
…promises and pie-crust are made to be broken. (Polite Conversation - Dialogue 1)
A man’s prerogative?
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
(Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726)
What’s the best part about getting old?
We are so fond of one another, because our ailments are the same. (Journal to Stella. February 1, 1711)
And the worst part?
The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former. (Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726)
Those dreams that on the silent night intrude, and with false flitting shapes our minds delude ... are mere productions of the brain. And fools consult interpreters in vain. (On Dreams. 1727)
'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery's the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit. (Cadenus and Vanessa. 1713)
Read anything good on the Internet lately?
A soldier is a Yahoo (man) hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can. (Gulliver’s Travels, Voyage to Houyhnhnms)
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bit 'em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind. (On Poetry: A Rhapsody. 1733)
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.(The Battle of the Books, preface. 1704)
Any advice for those without kids?
Books, the children of the brain. (A Tale of a Tub, Sec. 1. 1704)
The makings of a good blog?
Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style. (Letter to a Young Clergyman. January 9, 1720)
The best part about the afterlife?
Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old. (Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726) Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. (Thoughts on Various Subjects from Miscellanies. 1711-1726)